Sunday, July 3, 2022
Go and spread the Good News
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493.
July 3, 2022
We are coming up on the three anniversary of my first Sunday here in July of 2019. I will say that just like with most of you, this hasn’t gone exactly as I expected and/or hoped. None of us saw any of the disruption that we have had coming that wonderful summer. Filled with hope and dreams.
Three years out though we are coming out of this period of disruption at least in terms of Covid. And one thing that struck me this week as that no matter what, life goes on. Over this week and next we have one couple Cayla and Elliott getting married. I will baptize our newest member this morning. I will visit the McKees and celebrate the thanksgiving for the birth of a child next week. I will also visit with two people in hospice and another in the hospital. Life goes on and we need to remember that there are still many people who need to be ministered to. The life of our parish, our ministry continues and that’s important to remember.
It is so easy these days to get downright depressed with the news and events that we can descend into a low place. Depression is being diagnosed in many people especially our young people. That’s why for the past several weeks I’ve been talking about what we as individuals and as a church can do to help make the world a better place. Yet despite the challenges, I am still filled with hope and dreams for us.
We have identified Core Values, a Mission and Vision statement to guide us going forward. Some of you are concerned about the departure of Julia, but she has established a firm foundation for us to build on. We will take some time and evaluate where we are and where we want our formation programs to go as we look at a new post-covid world. Many of you who are volunteers in the program know what needs to be done and are fully capable of doing it. This is an opportunity to look at our target audience if you will and craft plans to help us reach those people who are just waiting to be invited to be part of our family. It is also important that we do that work before we hurry a search for a new Formation Director.
There is a lot to be said for the many lay volunteers who really make this church work. Sometimes I get the, “Well I’d like to help but a I don’t know enough,” line. When Jesus sent out the seventy, they had no training other than having listened to him. There were no seminaries, bible studies or programs. We don’t’ hear anyone of them object that they weren’t prepared or didn’t know enough. Jesus sent them out just as they were with simple instructions. They went out with hope and expectation but also knowing that not everyone was going to listen.
Stop and think what a world they were sent into. This past week Wednesday was the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. In a reflection on these to saints, the Rev. Sam Portaro described this world.
Paul’s ministry was conducted in a world of dazzling brilliance. The Roman Empire was near its apex; the religions of Athens and Rome, Israel and Egypt had been around long enough to build firm foundations and impressive cults. Learning was alive and exciting, world trade and communications brought peoples into vibrant contact. Set against the powerful forces of these venerable empires of commerce and culture, Christianity was a small potato, indeed. How could a gospel of self-denial and service to others long survive in a world of creature comforts and entrepreneurialism? Christianity was not nearly so likely to be swallowed up in darkness as it was to be eclipsed by the overwhelming vigor of its competition. 1
Does his description of Paul’s world resonate with any of you? Yet, the disciples, the seventy, Paul and Peter all went out into that world and made a witness (yes that is the right word even if it’s sounds evangelical) that made a difference. Bishop Curry at the last General Convention did a power sermon on witness. Witness is how you live out your life as a Christian.
What’s more the seventy were sent out not just to the Jews but they were walking through Gentile country at the time, so it went to those viewed as other, unclean, people to be disregarded. This message of who is our neighbor will show up shortly in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Now we have a problem that Paul and Peter didn’t have. We have a face of Christianity that has caused people to say, I haven’t given up on Jesus, I’ve given up on his church. The biggest growing group is what demographers are calling nones. They are people of faith, they desire a deeper spiritual life but they don’t think there is any way of finding it in the church because of the ugly face of the church that they have seen. I have had people visit with me and literally say, “I’m so disgusted with the church and their rejection of (then fill in the blank this particular case was a parent of an LGBT child) that this is my last stop. If I can’t find a church that will support me and my family then I’m done with church.” Sadly they will probably moving to a different state where the government will support their choices.
We are in an area that has a very high church going population, but that has come down for all faiths. I can tell you that in many parts of the country including Southern Virginia where I was before about 35% identify as belonging to a church and that going to church was important. The number that say they believe in God is much higher, but the number who report attending any sort of church is quite low.
I believe that those who have been wounded by the church provide a fertile ground, a ground where the potential harvest is great and I will come back to that, but first a problem word. When we speak of growing the church, growing our parish we are talking about Evangelism, nothing more nothing less. Why does this word continue to make us nervous? Why do we hesitate with this word?
This is because we often associate the word with those in your face usually my way is the only way at best and the nut case standing on the corner of the public square at worst screaming that if you don’t believe you are doomed. We’ve all done this I’m sure. You having a nice cup of coffee on Saturday morning and you look out your front window and there are two guys in black pants and white shirts walking up to your door. You peek through the window and then pretend not to be home. That’s not what I’m really talking about.
The word comes from the Greek word eujagge÷lion, which means good news. An evangelist is someone who actively shares the good news of Christ. It really is that simple. I’m an evangelist and everyone of you can and should be one to. In fact, Christ calls all of us to be evangelists. When you share your story about your faith you are an evangelist. It is the Good News that ultimately attracts people if you don’t cram it down somebody’s throat.
We need to be sure that this is a message of love and acceptance not one of blame and shame. Threatening people today with damnation really is not an effective strategy in the long run. Notice in this passage Jesus says if they do not want to listen simply walk away. But for those who listen stay with them.
St. Aidan was a very successful evangelist and brought Christianity back to Northern England after the time of the Vikings. He brought a gentile message of a God who loves and cares for people. He started with where people were in their faith journey even if it was from square one or if they were Druids, it really didn’t matter to him. He succeeded where others had failed. Celtic Evangelism follows this pattern. The monks and nuns that Aiden recruited and trained cared for not just the spiritual needs, but the human needs of those they worked with. That’s why I believe that a church that focuses outward on mission and outreach is a church that will grow. A church that meets people where they are and welcomes them in to our parish.
We have to assume that there are many people out there who either are completely unchurched because their parents have never gone to church or they are among the nones, those who love Jesus, but are done with church as they knew it.
Look around your neighborhood and notice how few people head out to church on Sunday morning. One thing you will notice is a those who don’t go to church are not just young, but people my age. Most of these are probably nones. That is a harvest that while difficult is one that is large and has potential for a parish like us.
Now I’m not asking you to knock on doors, but to pray for an opportunity to enter into a conversation with a person who might be willing to give church one more try if they are invited in the right way. What’s the right way you ask? By first, living out our baptismal promises. Live a life that shows you are a Christian not just by what you say, but by what you do. Than if the opportunity presents itself be ready to talk with the person. You don’t have to discuss theology, talk experience, that’s what they really want to know. Leave the theological questions to me.
So go, all of you, not yet, but go. I will end today’s service with a dismissal from Bishop Curry and I want you to listen to it now and then again later.
Go forth in the Name of Christ:
Go into your own neighborhoods.
Go into unknown lands and places
Go where God’s name is well known and where it has yet to be known.
Go to those who welcome you and to those who reject you.
Goforth into the world and share the Good News of God’s love. AMEN